Timmy the Tugboat was in a pickle - Your flash fiction submissions

In April, we invited RNLI supporters in lockdown to flex their creative muscles and write some flash fiction – a very short story – inspired by a seaside many were not allowed to visit. Here are some of your stories.

The St Davids Oakley class lifeboat
An Oakley class lifeboat

Carol Dixon writes: ‘Here is a story that I told my grandchildren when they were small, mentioning their granda who was an RNLI fleet mechanic in the 1980s on the North East coast. Sadly I have lost the illustrations by my granddaughter (who is now 14). We often talked about the lifeboats with them and took them to see the one of the Oakley class lifeboats Donald had worked on (now in a museum!) when they visited. When they took the photos to their school (which is in the middle of the countryside) the school decided to adopt the RNLI as their charity for the year. The grandchildren are now too old for my stories, but I hope you might enjoy it.’

Lucy Lifeboat Saves the Day

Timmy the Tugboat was in a pickle. He'd been asked by the harbour master to assist a big ship outside the sea wall but he couldn't. He was too big to fit between the harbour wall and the rocks. 

‘Don't worry,’ said his friend Lucy Lifeboat. ‘I'll get my crew and they'll soon sort it.’ But as she went to start up there was a big problem. ‘Cough cough cough!’ There was a strange grinding noise. ‘Aarhh!’ she croaked to Mike the Mechanic. ‘What are we going to do? I can't go on a rescue like this.’

Mike scratched his head. ‘Well I've tried everything,’ he said in a puzzled voice. Luckily, Don the Area Fleet Mechanic was visiting the lifeboat station that day. ‘Let me have a look,’ he said and fiddled about in Lucy's engine room. ‘Right, that should do it.’ And so it did. 

In no time at all the coxswain and crew were off out of the harbour and set off for the big ship at high speed. They managed to attach a towline and began easing the larger boat off the rocks towards the waiting tugboat, and soon Timmy was able to take over. 

Later that evening, after Lucy had her wash down and Timmy was safely moored near the lifeboat station, the two friends talked over their adventurous day. 

‘Thanks for all your help, Lucy,’ said Timmy. ‘If it hadn't been for you that big ship might never have got back safely.’

‘It wasn't just me,’ Lucy replied. ‘It takes lots of people to help - from the fundraisers to the frontline crew and not forgetting the fleet mechanics and area staff, the coastguard and those on the phones. We couldn't do it on our own.’ 

‘I suppose you're right,’ said Timmy. ‘It takes everyone working together to keep our coastline safe.’  And with that comforting thought they both settled down to sleep. 

‘It's OK for you, Timmy,’ Lucy murmured. ‘I only hope nobody's pager goes off in the night!’ 

Shore Line

By Kim O'Flynn

It is a weekday, in August, and I am standing up to my knees in a sea which sucks and drags at my legs so violently and continuously that, were I older and warier, I might be frightened.  

However, I am an 8-year-old little girl who generally obeys rules and who always does as her teachers tell her – except these are the summer holidays and many rules, and all teacherly supervision, have been removed. My parents too, sitting higher up the beach, are preoccupied with the tantrums of my younger sister and brother and because of this brief hiatus of supervision, without realising it, I am now free to make what could be a life-or-death decision. 

I clutch the means of my possible doom, an alluringly bright red inflatable. I have sole control now of this (often) disputed possession and regardless of the warning flags slapping in the wind gusts, regardless of the high grey waves, regardless of the fact that no one else is in the water, I intend to launch myself off, for a solitary sail. 

And I would have - except that my father, pounding and sliding down the beach, bellowing my name as he runs, his face a petrified mask, has reached me, and, to my indignation, I am being swung off my raft back onto the sand; my precious inflatable, discarded, almost immediately floating out of reach.

Back with my mother and father and two snivelling siblings, I sob and watch for a time our red raft walk the waves, far out to sea - without me.

In Karma Waters: A (True) Short Story for the RNLI

By Ross and Sue Hunter

A challenge: define earthly paradise better than a 2-day cruise to Komodo Island, meeting the famous dragons, snorkelling around the coral, up close and personal with manta rays and in good company, not to mention a spot of sun and several local Bintang (Star) beers. A quality boat with our own cabin booked. What could go wrong?

We embarked at Labuan Bajo Port, western Flores, Indonesia, and filled our luxury cabin, a 2x2x2m cosy cube without windows, and a/c in the form of a compact fan. Modest, but all ours.  

Up on deck to meet the other two dozen intrepid explorers. Granted, the boat was no luxury liner, and we only ever spotted a single life vest, but, hey, these clear calm turquoise South China Seas are not the Minches.

Off we set, in great spirits, and soon popped down to OUR cabin for sun tan lotion, to find … another couple very much in residence, and our kit dumped in the galley. Possession being nine tenths of the law, and with deck class under the awning overbooked already, we were floating homeless.

Not much could be done. We enjoyed the day, the visits, the swimming, the photo ops, and best of all the sympathy of the troops for our stoic patience. Come nightfall, no miracle solutions, and we had to sleep al fresco on the poop deck.

Even before dawn, it was clear our cabin usurpers had sweltered, as the fan had failed, and the big team had shared exothermic sunburn under their rubbery lid and curtains. We had enjoyed the best sleep of all, under the equatorial Milky Way. Day 2’s stalking the dinosaur dragons, sampling the pink sands and posing for the album photos was all the sweeter for having had a great kip, blessed by karma.

A tourist sleeps on deck of a boat travelling to Komodo Island

Photo: Ross and Sue Hunter

The morning after the most peaceful night's sleep: on deck under the stars

A Step into the Unknown

By Maria Yewdall

Anyone who knows me of old would never have imagined me donning scuba diving gear, and stepping off a dive boat into the warm crystal waters of the Caribbean.
Well, neither would I a few years ago; the very thought of it would have filled me with dread. But that’s exactly what I did after taking a 1-day PADI course. I was staying on the island of Utila, which is just off the coast of Honduras, Central America, and I took the course at one of the many dive schools on the island.
I had only ever snorkelled once before, but I thought that I would like to try scuba diving, if only once. I felt that it was a case of now or never!
I had an instructor close by at all times, and I have to say that the whole experience was just amazing. The fish swimming around me, the colours of the coral, and the plant life swaying in the gentle current. Even the sound of my own breathing, which was the only sound that I could hear.
I almost can’t believe that I did it, and that I managed to challenge one of my greatest fears.
Maybe we should all challenge our fears at some time in our lives. After all, we might really enjoy it, and if we don’t do it, then we’ll never know!

Bembridge Memories

By Wayne Rowley

So, I think I was about 2 years old, maybe earlier and now I am just to turn 40! Eeeeek where have all the years gone! My flash fiction is a short story reminiscing over my childhood adventures every summer in Bembridge on the Isle of Wight.  

I holidayed every summer with my nan and her brother, my Great Uncle Mick. His real name Brian, my christened middle name also. Every year I looked forward to this special time away with two of the most important people to ever have been allowed into my life. 

We stayed in Bembridge, Lane End, to be specific. Our holiday accommodation was owned by Ivan and Mary Kersley; they owned a large area on the beach front, two holiday apartments, a cottage, a café and holiday ice cream and beach toys shop and a large plot where there stood about 100 beach huts.  

Every summer we would all meet for our 2-week holidays: friends, friends of friends and family friends who had an affinity with the IoW for many generations. This was magical; to meet up every year and completely start immediately where you had left off a year gone. 

Mary ran the café, always red faced and rushing around, serving the most delicious Bembridge Crab Salads. 

Ivan would serve in the ice cream shop and help you spend your pocket money on summer toys, souvenirs and 1980s postcards! There were always two types: scenic ones and ones that were very rude with ladies and gents wearing tiny swimming costumes and making crude jokes within the scenes on the cards.  

Ivan was also the head launch man of the Bembridge lifeboat; this is where my passion for the sea, boats and the RNLI began. 

Ivan would take me at the drop of a hat to every launch that accrued during my holiday; the moment the flare shot into the sky we would run and run as fast as we could, day or night, down the pier, into the boathouse and prepare for the crew men to blast in, don their lifeboat wears, and jump aboard. 

The boat’s horn would blast and then WACK Ivan would hit the hammer with such force to unlock the pin holding the lifeboat in the house, and we would then watch it roar down the slipway and into the Solent.

Thank you so much to Carol, Kim, Ross, Sue, Maria and Wayne for sharing your work, your inspiration and your treasured memories.

If you’re inspired to write, check out Lough Derg Helm and published poet Eleanor Hooker’s tips on writing flash fiction and poetry.